Editor’s Note: In a post for an ongoing series, Dr. Harley A. Rotbart, a Parents advisor, will be guest blogging once a month. He will be offering different advice, tips, and personal stories on how parents can “savor the moment” and maximize the time they spend with kids. Read more posts by Harley Rotbart from this series.
As a pediatrician, I may have been ahead of my time in advocating gender-neutral play for kids. Beginning nearly 25 years ago when our oldest was born and continuing with his sister and brother, we gave our boys ample opportunity to play with dolls and our daughter saw more than her share of toy trucks. Despite our advanced thinking, by the time they were 2, 4, and 6 years old, the kids seemed to have already absorbed society’s subliminal stereotyping, gravitating to the predictable playthings for their gender. Our kids really loved playing together, so most of their play was gender generic: backyard soccer, Beanie Babies, Candy Land, card games, and climbing towers. We gradually reconciled ourselves to the fact that some of their play would never cross gender lines.
As they got a little older, our daughter found girlfriends who loved Barbie dolls as much as she did (there were some non-stop Ken and Barbie days from breakfast to dinner) and the boys played ball — all the time, with each other and with other boys in the neighborhood. (Our oldest son’s first question, when we brought his baby brother home from the hospital, was: “When will he be old enough to play baseball?”). Occasionally, when Ken and Barbie were tired or when her friends had to go home, our daughter would join the boys in the backyard for ball. But the reverse never happened, for two reasons: the boys never tired of ball and Barbies were for girls.
That brings us to the fateful day when our now 4, 6, and 8 year old kids taught us an important lesson about the ability of kids’ imaginations to transcend all the TV, movie, children’s books, and playground stereotypes they were exposed to every day. It was a rainy Saturday and Emily’s closest Barbie buddies were all unavailable. This was a potential 7.0 crisis on the kid Richter scale.
Downstairs, in the basement, our boys had a 5 foot basketball hoop set up for rainy days. To compensate for age and size difference, our 8 year old played on his knees. Meanwhile upstairs, our daughter was able to sustain a Barbie soap opera (there was always drama with Ken and Barbie) on her own for about half an hour, but then she exhausted her imagination and needed a friend to contribute to the plot and dialog. But on this day, there were no friends and no outdoor options.
This was clearly a parenting moment, and my wife leaped into action. She called the boys upstairs and told them they had to be their sister’s Barbie buddies, at which point we both upgraded to DEFCON 3 and waited for the explosion. No explosion. Just a loud groan from the 8 year old and an echo groan from the 4 year old, followed by the negotiations. Will she play basketball with us after? How long do we have to do it? Do we have to talk like Barbie? When’s lunch? Each question asked by the 8 year old was echoed by the 4 year old. At that point, mom made it very clear: Your sister puts up with a lot of boy stuff in this house. Please go upstairs, now. Play Barbie and pretend to like it. Big groan, echo groan, synchronous stair stomping.
Sex-Changing Treatments Are on the Rise in Kids
A small but growing number of teens and even younger children who think they were born the wrong sex are getting support from parents and from doctors who give them sex-changing treatments, according to reports in the medical journal Pediatrics.
Ultrasound Abortion Bill Nears Vote in Virginia
A bill requiring a woman to get an ultrasound before having an abortion is poised to pass Virginia’s legislature this week, placing it on track to be signed into law by Gov. Bob McDonnell.
This past weekend, The New York Times published an article about the gender identity/gender confusion debate that has been an ongoing national focus this year.
While it’s nothing new that little boys (particularly toddlers and preschoolers) “cross” gender stereotypes by wearing dresses, playing with dolls, and wearing neon pink nail polish, what’s new is how parents are handling their kids’ interests.
Instead of forcing boys to conform to gender stereotypes, more parents are supportive and letting their kids express themselves. Whether a child really is gay or not or just exploring different interests, parents are keeping an open mind and letting kids grow up confident in their own interests and choices.
The first question new parents are asked when they’re expecting a baby is: Boy or girl?
A Canadian couple is challenging society’s idea of gender identity by keeping the gender of their new baby a secret…even after birth. At four months, Storm is the third child for Kathy Witterick and David Stocker (a teacher at a small, alternative school that focuses on social justice issues), who have two other sons, Jazz (5) and Kio (2). Despite being boys, both Jazz and Kio were raised without assigned gender expectations or limitations, meaning they’re encouraged to play with boys and girls toys, wear boys and girls clothes (in “girly” colors of pink and purple), and grow their hair long if they choose.
The immediate family (including grandparents), a few close friends, and midwives know Storm’s true gender, but the parents have decided to keep the baby genderless by avoiding the use of male or female pronouns. Inspired by a book published in 1978, “X: A Fabulous Child’s Story” by Lois Gould, about a child raised without gender roles, the couple hoped to give Storm a chance to grow and decide on what gender to identify with, without society’s pressure.
While the couple’s decision has caused confusion and criticism (Will Storm feel marginalized later in life? Which public restroom will Storm use? Are the parents pushing their own political and social agendas on Storm?), the debate around gender identity comes hot on the heels of more recent news. Chaz Bono, formerly Chastity Bono, just released a memoir and a documentary about his decision to become a man through a sex-change operation. Cheryl Kilodavis, a mother of a little boy who loves wearing tutus and tiaras, was on national news earlier this year after writing “The Princess Boy.”
In a world that delineates between the power of princesses and the strength of superheroes, could the couple’s unique parenting decision succeed in helping society get rid of gender labels and stereotypes?
Below is a clip from Monday’s segment of the ”Today Show” in New York City, where Cheryl and her son (Dyson, now 5-years-old) speak about the importance of acceptance, inclusion, and embracing every child’s uniqueness. Plus, stay tuned for our own upcoming interview with Cheryl Kilodavis!
Diaper Research Tracks Infant Estrogen Levels The method, previously used in nonhuman primates, will allow researchers to learn more about the association between estrogen levels in human infants and their long-term reproductive development as well as the development of sex-specific behaviors, such as toy preference or cognitive differences. What’s more, the method will also allow researchers to look at how early disruption of the endocrine system affects long-term maturation, a growing concern among researchers and physicians. [Medical News Today]
A hot debate is brewing among parents and among our readers: Would you let your little boy dress in girls’ clothing?
Cheryl Kilodavis is the mother of a 4-year-old boy who loves wearing sparkly and pink dresses, skirts, tiaras, and jewelry. She wrote and self-published a children’s picture book titled “My Princess Boy,” based on her son, to create a dialogue about traditional gender roles, acceptance of differences, and unique self-expression. Another mom named Sarah blogged about her son’s choice to wear a “female” Halloween costume.
As an educator with a master’s degree in education, a former preschool teacher of 7 years, and a mother to a toddler, it is perfectly normal for a child to play in a way that may not be classified as “gender appropriate.” Children learn the most by playing with other children, especially in the early years…It is all part of their development. Pretend play is a good way for children to model behaviors they see in their world. - Tracy Seng Wren
I do not approve or encourage my son to dress like a girl or act effeminate. As a father, my role is to teach him the appropriate male gender roles. I would have no problem with my son cooking, helping with household chores, etc. There is a big difference with that and a boy dressing up as a girl. - Jose Tadeo
What do you think? Take our poll below and read more comments after the jump.